The Cherokee City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved a motion to create a local Communications Study Committee to explore replacing the City's current Mediacom cable television service due to mounting citizen complaints and a consistent lack of "quality of service" offered by the national communications giant.
The Committee has been given 120 days to research and provide recommendations to the Council regarding cable television, telephone, and Internet services available to the citizens of Cherokee.
Those Committee members are Council members Linda Burkhart and Mick Mallory, Chuck Wulfsen, Mark Schuett, Mark Arnold, Mary Ann Miller, and Darla Struck.
City Administrator Don Eikmeier told the Council of the many complaints the City has received in the past and continues to receive. "Poor service is the issue," said Eikmeier. "The quality of service is lacking. Something needs to be done."
According to Eikmeier, the City has three options - Seek proposals for a new franchise from both small and large communications companies; the City could build and operate its own system; or the City could create its own system and then contract it out to a third party.
Eikmeier said industry estimates equal about $3,000 to $4,000 per customer for the City to create its own system. "This is not a low-cost opportunity," said Eikmeier. "We'd need to take it to the public for a vote."
Right now, Eikmeier said the Committee must seek direction and support from the community and then produce a feasibility study to present to the Council. Eikmeier estimated the process would take two years before coming to fruition and getting the services installed.
Mayor Pam Pierce advised the Council that the City is fortunate to have two local entities with vast expertise and experience in the matter in Schoon Construction (installation expertise) in Cherokee and CMLTelephone Cooperative Association (operating system expertise) in Meriden. The Committee will be consulting with them, assured Eikmeier and the Mayor.
The process also will cost an estimated $25,000 for a formal study to be done after the Committee receives citizen input, and the Council signs off on the Committee's recommendations.
Council member Burkhart said she would prefer "someone local" to be in control of the cable television service in Cherokee. She said she has recently cancelled her Mediacom service because of poor quality and the lack of proper service to rectify the re-occurring problems.
The Mediacom non-exclusive franchise which offers cable TV, telephone, and Internet services, expires in December, 2010. Qwest continues to provide landline telephone service and Internet in the City, but operates without a franchise.
The City has met with Mediacom in the past to review the many complaints and requested them to upgrade their services, but Mediacom has neither made nor agreed to make any upgrades.
User fees, not property taxes, would have to pay for the service if the City takes over and creates its own system. Revenue Bonds would then be issued to finance the project of such magnitude.
The Council also heard a report on the status of the City's Iowa Communities Assurance Pool (ICAP) insurance coverage and service through Central Bank in Cherokee.
Agent Ken Slater, Central Bank's former ICAP representative, recently retired and resigned from Central Insurance, and has opened his own Ken Slater Insurance Agency. Both Slater and Central Insurance communicated with the City indicating their interest in continuing to serve the City's insurance needs.
The City contacted ICAP and was told that ICAP will continue to work through Central Insurance, as the City executed a contract with ICAP, with Central Insurance as the agent, this past spring when the City's property, casualty, and workmen's comp coverages were last renewed. The contract is effective through April 1, 2010.
The Council agreed to stay with Central Insurance, but could revisit the issue 90 days before the contract's expiration date, to possibly seek other proposals for insurance coverages and services. That would be sometime in January, 2010.
Slater said he merely contacted ICAP when he retired and asked to be the ICAP representative, "and it escalated into this." Slater said he was fine with the City sticking with Central Insurance and that he contacted ICAP simply wanting an answer from ICAP regarding the issue.
Eikmeier also told the Council that he is in the process of gathering daily attendance, temperatures, revenue, and closing times for each day of operation for the past two years at the Bacon Aquatics Center's operation, in response to complaints. Eikmeier is also gathering user and revenue data from area aquatic centers to compare trends.
Eikmeier recommended to the Council that the Bacon Aquatics Center would be opened as scheduled in the future, with the exceptions of 1) outside temperatures are less than 70 degrees; 2) lightning; and 3) mechanical failure.
The Council referred a request from Barry and Lisa Carlson to the Planning & Zoning Commission. The Carlsons want to have their property at 1711 Linden St. removed from the City limits, because they don't receive City services such as water and sewer. "It's not been available in the past," said Barry Carlson.
Eikmeier advised the Council that water and sewer service could be made available to the property if the Carlsons wished to participate in the connection. Police, fire, library, parks and recreation services are currently all available to the Carlsons, said Eikmeier.